365 NOLA Adventures

Thinking About New Orleans’ Streets: Part 1

Two things have got me thinking more about the way we use our streets lately.  One is I’ve been working on a piece for The Advocate about the three-month bike infrastructure demonstration project going on in the CBD and French Quarter.  The other is a recent trip to Charlotte in which I encountered an app-based system of shareable scooters for the first time. (Spoiler alert: I f@#king loved them!)

First, the demonstration project in New Orleans.  It’s called Connect the Crescent, and on the surface, it’s bike-focused.  3.5 miles of infrastructure new bike lanes going in. Some old bike lanes being moved or altered (our first two-way bike lane set-up in the city, I believe!), adding barriers to protect cyclists, and clearer markings at crosswalks for pedestrians and bicyclists.

But, below the surface, it’s about a lot more.  When I started working on this piece, I was chatting with my friend, Tara Tolford (whose birthday is today, happy birthday, Tara!).  She’s the Pedestrian and Bicycle Outreach Coordinator for the University of New Orleans’ Transportation Institute (UNOTI…U not I…You, not I…anyway), and I figured she could introduce me to the long list of things I didn’t know I’d need to know about writing an article about street design in New Orleans.

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A map, courtesy of Connect the Crescent, showing how the project will temporarily add to New Orleans’ bike infrastructure.

She knocked my socks off with this one stat, in particular: 80% of the average American city’s public space is its streets. Not Audubon Park or City Park or the river levee on which we walk our dogs. Not even all of these combined. It’s our roadways.

But if this is, by far, our largest amount of public space, why is it only being used by motorists? Well, maybe, because the large majority of Americans have access to cars. (Even though, as the recent United Nations climate report pointed out, maybe we shouldn’t.)

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Biking through the CBD, heading uptown, on Baronne Street’s new two-way bike lane.  A part of Connect the Crescent.

Our modern streetscape was originally designed for cars and, until recently, it was the near-exclusive domain of drivers. But I think that’s changing. Folks advocating for more access to public transportation, a huge surge of cyclists in the city (I don’t want to spoil the article by giving all my stats here), and even a temporary halted plan to bring a scooter share to the city are all evidence. I mean, thinking back to the number of pedestrians I saw in the CBD in 2009 and the number I see now — the difference is stark.

Tara suggested I talked to Dan Favre, Executive Director of Bike Easy and also a leader on the Connect the Crescent.

We had a handful of great conversations, but I really loved this quote from him.  I’m hoping I can keep it in the article, but either way, I think it paints a picture of how holistic our city streets can one day be.

Favre is happy to hear about safer bike commutes, but he knows making our streets available to a wider range of residents involves much more.  “It’s making sure pedestrians have safe places to cross busy roads, and that those crosswalks consider, for example, a New Orleanian in a wheelchair, as well.

“It’s making sure there’s equitable access to job centers and public centers, whether you drive, bike or take public transportation.  It’s reimagining streets as a way to help with stormwater management. It’s providing covered stops for residents waiting for their bus on a rainy day, and making sure — when you’re driving home from work — you can get back to your family quickly and safely instead of waiting in traffic.  

“It’s giving folks the opportunity to get the exercise they need to live healthier lives freer of heart disease.  Or to bike to that happy hour you want to go to. Or just to walk with your children to the park.”

Now, is a two-way bike lane on Baronne Street the best or only way to move us toward that vision?  I mean, I like it, but some don’t.  I get into that in the article, too.  But regardless of specific details, I hope we keep moving toward that vision.

Alright, that’s enough for today! I’ll get to the scooters tomorrow. But I’ll leave you with this picture of me riding one to the Giants game.

Have you seen the demonstration project in the CBD or French Quarter? Ridden on it or driven next to it? What do you think? Any thoughts about how NOLA (or other cities) balance the needs of pedestrians, motorists, public transit users and cyclists? Or how we use our streets in general?  Feel like I’m living important bits out of the debate?  Experts and newbies, motorists and cyclists — I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section!

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